Life beyond the Parish Back to the Main Historical Society page

Life beyond the Parish.

from Barwicker No. 75

Our predecessors living in the parish have not left us with a written account of their daily lives, aspirations or attitudes to everyday life in Barwick-in-Elmet. We can only guess at the way we would have viewed the world. Without the benefit of fast travel, newspapers and modern means of distributing knowledge of the wider world, parishioners of pre-Victorian times would know little about the world beyond, say. a ten mile radius of the parish. Travel was difficult and expensive, for few could afford the luxury of unpaid days away from work.

While walking in the Barwick-in-Elmet parish you can get views of the Pennines, the Wolds and the moors of North Yorkshire and the Dales. From certain high places in the north of the parish you can see York Minster. There can be few living in the parish today who have not visited any of these places. Before the coming of the railway, there could have been few living locally who had visited any of these faraway places. We can only speculate as to how much parishioners knew about the places which they could see in the distance while working in the fields or walking the footpaths and lanes of the parish.

However, before the arrival of engines and electrically controlled devices such as radios and security alarms, parishioners had one sense which we don't have today - the ability to hear far-off sounds. Pre-industrial Britons lived in quieter times.

What could they have heard? On 3 June 1665, the English navy fought the Dutch navy at Lowestoft. The diarist Dryden, in London at the time, wrote "the noise of the cannon from both navies reached our ears above the city, so that all men being alarmed with it, and in a dreadful surprise of the event which they knew was then deciding, everyone went following the sound as his fancy led him; and, leaving the town almost empty, some took towards the Park, some across the River, others down it, all seeking the noise in the depth of silence." Our ambassador at the Hague, George Downing, who knew more about the world than most, wrote that he heard "continued terrible thunder from about 2 of the clock in the morning upon Saturday till between 11 and 12 at night" and prudently fortified his house with stones and barrels of earth fearing retaliation.

Therefore, we know that the sound of battle could travel over 100 miles in the days when there was no man-made competitive noise to drown it out. On this basis, the guns at Marston Moor and the siege of Pontefract in the civil war twenty years before Lowestoft would certainly have been heard in the whole of the parish. Even today, the sound of 50-60,000 spectators at a football match can be heard several miles away. So it is possible that the shouts and cries of some 60,000 men at the Battle of Towton in the Wars of the Roses would have been heard in the parish. In this instance, however, we know that a south-westerly wind was blowing during the battle and it was snowing so we can be less certain.

Today there is always the sound of traffic from the M1, the A1, the A64 or the Leeds Ring Road which blankets out any possibility of far off sound. In addition we have modern communications which would warn us, or report fairly quickly, any far off catastrophe. The parishioners of the past would not have had these advantages and the sound of the battle would have been a source of alarm. consternation and worry.

On the other hand, parishioners would all have heard the bells of the parish church in Barwick on the various occasions on which they were rung - unless they were drowned by the noise of cows or sheep.


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